Social anxiety

Social anxiety means that you are afraid of getting into situations with other people, where you risk feeling lost or scrutinized. It can lead to you avoiding social contexts. Seek care if your anxiety hinders you in your everyday life. There are treatments that help.

This article is about social anxiety in adults. For the anxiety of children and teens, you as a  parent or guardian can read more here . 

How is social anxiety felt?

Social anxiety was previously called social phobia. Common to phobias is that they work in similar ways: The more you try to avoid what you are afraid of, the stronger your anxiety becomes.

You who have social anxiety are afraid of being exposed to other people’s attention. Concern is about being scrutinized, doing away with or losing control when others are watching.

Anxiety can be experienced differently from person to person, but often you who have social anxiety can recognize you in some of the following symptoms:

  • You get palpitations.
  • You get dry in your mouth.
  • You blush, warm, or feel cold sweaty.
  • It can feel like a lump in your stomach or throat.
  • You feel tired or weak in the muscles.
  • You feel dizzy or like you’re fainting.

Typical thoughts can be “I do away with it”, “What if it appears” or “What should everyone believe?”. It is common to want to escape to avoid the unpleasant situation.

Fear of discomfort can make you start avoiding social contexts, making you all the more lonely. It may feel like a relief in the short term to avoid the discomfort, but it aggravates your anxiety in the long run.

When and where should I seek care?

Seek help if your anxiety hinders you in your everyday life. The same applies if you use alcohol or drugs to relieve your anxiety.

Contact  a health care center  or a psychiatric outpatient clinic. When you book a time you can ask to have a slightly longer visit time so that you can tell about your situation. 

You who are young

You who are under 25 can contact student health or a  youth reception . The age limit for youth clinics may differ depending on where you live.

If you need to talk to someone

You can call a phone call . Here is someone who listens and can provide advice and support on how to proceed. You can call anonymously.

Try again if the help didn’t work

If you have previously received help somewhere but do not think it worked, try again somewhere else.

Talking to different people can work well. It is also different how it feels during different periods. Sometimes it may take time before it feels right to receive help.

If it’s in a hurry

Seek treatment at a psychiatric emergency room if you have thoughts of taking your life , or are feeling so bad that you feel like you can no longer cope.

What can I do for myself?

It is good to learn more about how social anxiety works and understand how your anxiety affects you and your behavior.

The first thing you can do is try to understand what you are doing to avoid what you are afraid of. What situations do you avoid? How do you do to avoid them? How do you usually handle a challenging social situation?

What you do to avoid difficult situations is called security behavior. The problem with safety behaviors is that over time they can make your anxiety worse after a while. Try to be in difficult situations without your safety behaviors.

Talk to someone

To successfully change a behavior, you may need help and support. Talking about how you feel with someone you trust is a good start. It may be someone you know or someone who, for example, works in health care or  someone on a call or support line . 

To reduce stress and make anxiety easier to manage, it can help if you  are moving regularly  and trying to get enough sleep.

You can work out relaxation or do breathing exercises if you have trouble sleeping. You can try doing exercises in conscious presence, also called mindfulness . It can help you to be calmer and easier to handle.

Treatment of social anxiety

Treatment methods that work well in social anxiety disorders are:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy, KBT
  • advice and support on healthy habits
  • possible drug treatment of social anxiety, if the problems have been going on for a long time.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, KBT

The kind of psychotherapy that usually helps the best in social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, KBT. 

In therapy, you get help to cope and endure unpleasant feelings. This is done step by step in a method called exposure. Exposure means that you approach things that you usually avoid. You will also learn to find new ways to deal with and think about your anxiety.

What works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it is important that you receive help that is adapted to what you need. The person you meet can help you seek more specialized help if you agree that it is needed.

It is important that you feel good about the psychologist, curator or doctor you meet. Ask to talk to someone else, if the person you meet doesn’t feel good to talk to.

Sometimes you can get treatment with KBT via the internet.

Advice and support on healthy habits

Part of the treatment of social anxiety is that you get information about what anxiety is and what you can do yourself to start feeling better.

For example, you can get advice and support when it comes to  sleep ,  eating habits ,  physical activity and  alcohol habits .

By changing your daily habits, you can increase your resistance to stress and anxiety. Even small changes can make a big difference.

Drug

The most common drugs used to treat social anxiety disorder are antidepressants belonging to the drug groups SSRI and SNRI.

Drugs may be combined with other treatments, such as physical activity or psychological treatment.

Advice to you who are related

As a relative of someone who has social anxiety, you may feel anxious, frustrated or powerless. For starters, it’s good if you learn more about social anxiety. For example, you can read books or articles or listen to podcasts about anxiety and mental illness.

You may need to encourage your loved ones to seek professional help. You can also apply to a support organization, such as the  Ångestförbundet, ÅSS.  Talking to others who have similar experiences can be empowering and valuable.

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